by Cassia and Siobhan

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    The little procession had picked up quite a following by the time they made it into the heart of town.  Half of Strayton seemed to have turned out and there was not a single friendly face in the crowd. 
    Aragorn and Legolas exchanged worried glances.  They were feeling worse and worse about this by the minute. 
    “We’ve fallen into a hornet’s nest this time my friend,” Legolas murmured to Aragorn as they were pushed and jostled through the growing throng.  Aragorn had to agree. 
    Out of the corner of his eye Legolas thought he caught sight of someone... someone who seemed familiar.  An elderly man with a long grey beard, whose calm, piercing eyes looked out of place amidst the near riotous throng.  The prince could not be sure however, and when he looked back a second time the face was gone, lost in the crowd.
    They reached a small, stout building that was half sunk into the ground and were ushered inside.  The building turned out to be the town’s prison. 
    They were pushed down the stairs that led to the prison and Aragorn stumbled.  A hard shove made him lose his balance and he fell down the stairway, the fall doing nothing good for his sore body.  One of their guards kicked him in the ribs to get him up. 
    Legolas did not take that very kindly and shouldered the guard sideways before he could kick Aragorn again.  “That is completely uncalled for,” the elf’s voice was icy.
    The guards laughed.  “Listen to pretty-boy!  You can’t order us around elf!”  Just to prove their point one of them aimed another kick at Aragorn, who was in the process of rising.
    Calmly, Legolas shoulder-checked the fellow again, despite the warning look from Aragorn.  The guard stumbled, missing his mark. 
    The man’s face grew stormy.  “You know, for having ears like that, you don’t hear so well, do you?” he taunted the elf, playing with Legolas’ pointed ears.  Several of the others thought that looked fun and joined in.  Under any other circumstances, Aragorn would have found the incredibly annoyed, long-suffering look on his friend’s face humorous, but not at the moment.  The guards were teasing the elf unmercifully, tugging at his ears and slapping him, lightly at first, then not so lightly, playing with their prisoner and making fun of his fair features. 
    Aragorn was surprised that Legolas was dealing with this as well as he was.  He remembered a time when the elf prince would not have quietly suffered the touch of any man, much less the kind of handling that these men were giving him.  Indeed, there was a time these men would have died for touching the prince like this.  Legolas shook his head, pulling disdainfully away from his tormentors. 
    Suddenly one of them socked the defenseless elf roughly in the stomach.  Legolas doubled over, sharp pain from his side lancing through his awareness and almost making him stumble.  The fist came down again and Legolas hissed softly between his teeth as it knocked the air out of his lungs.
    “Enough,” Warden Nash stopped things before they had a chance to get really ugly.  “Lock them up.”
    Aragorn and Legolas were half-dragged, half-shoved into the small cell.  Their hands were cut free and the door slammed shut behind them.  There was one small, barred window set high up on the far wall of the cellar-like prison, almost ground level with the earth outside.  The wall of the jail that faced inward, into the rest of the building, was made of floor-to-ceiling bars with a heavy door.  From the look of the people on the other side of those bars, this was probably the safest place for them to be at the moment.
    Legolas was still holding his healing side and trying to catch his breath, but he sat down on the floor quickly so that Aragorn wouldn’t notice and worry about him.
    Aragorn also took a seat and the two friends sat calmly with their backs against opposite walls, gazing out impassively at the guards and villagers crammed into the small building.  When the people outside finally found that they could get no rise out of the prisoners, they slowly disbanded, muttering angry words. 
    Finally just the Warden and a few of his men were left. 
    “What exactly do you intend to do with us?” Aragorn asked quietly.  True, he may not have wanted to go back to Rivendell and face his brothers, but being thrown into jail was not an alternative he would have chosen.  “Prosecute us for river-theft?”
    “For crimes against the people of Strayton,” the man answered, obviously un-amused.  “And you won’t find that a laughing matter, believe me.  But don’t worry, you’ll get a hearing first, for what it’s worth.”
    Neither Aragorn nor Legolas had a high opinion of how much good that would do them. 
    “You can’t really think to hold us responsible for an earthquake, can you?” the young Ranger shook his head.  This whole situation was ludicrous.  It might have been funny if it hadn’t been so potentially dangerous.
    “Well,” the Warden replied casually as the two friends’ confiscated weapons, which had been brought along, were hung on the wall by the door.  “There’s always Farmer Biles’ charge,” he replied with a small, unsettling grin.  “And around here, we hang chicken thieves.  Enjoy your stay, gentlemen.”
    Legolas glanced at Aragorn after the Warden left and the guards settled down to their pastimes.  “Pleasant sort of man.  You know, I’m building such fond memories of these people...” he remarked softly enough so that only Aragorn would hear him, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
    Aragorn shook his head and ran his hand over his face.  “How do we always end up in these situations?”
    “Do you really want an answer to that?” Legolas inquired with a raised eyebrow.
    “No,” Aragorn shook his head and rested his arms across the tops of his bent knees, pulling them up almost to his chin.  “Are you all right?”
    Legolas nodded, checking his side.  “It’s tender, but I don’t believe it will tear again unless I get too near any more ponds...” he grinned slightly.
    “No,” Aragorn returned the small grin, but his eyes remained serious.  “That’s not what I meant.  Are you all right?... with this?” he gestured around them slightly.  The young ranger feared that the men’s mistreatment and their present imprisonment might have triggered some of Legolas’ painful memories from his past.  That was ground that he had learned to tread very lightly upon since coming to know the prince.
    Legolas caught the drift of his friend’s worry, but just smiled softly.  At one time, their present situation would have been incredibly difficult for the prince to endure... but not now.  The elf realized that he was truly free of the past at last and in the midst of everything that was going on, it was an unexpected bright spot to realize that.  
    “Well if you mean am I all right with us possibly getting hanged for stealing some farmer’s scrawny chickens that we never even saw...” Legolas remarked with a wry grin, “What do you think?”
    Aragorn almost laughed and kicked his friend’s boot lightly.  Even though Legolas hadn’t answered him, he had.  And Aragorn liked the change he saw. 
    Suddenly the hard stone floor trembled beneath them and they both looked up sharply.  Another aftershock!  Aragorn pressed himself tightly against the wall and Legolas jumped into a crouch as the walls around them shook.  Dust fell from the ceiling and the bars rattled and creaked as the structure groaned.
    The guards panicked and dashed up the stairs, getting out as quick as they could.
    Aragorn and Legolas had no such option.  They were trapped. 


    Elladan raced quickly up the stairs.  “Anyone in here?  This structure is unstable and in the path of the flood waters, everyone needs to get out!” he shouted the warning that had become almost automatic by now.  
    On the far west side of the gorge that Rivendell was set into, there were a number of houses and structures left over from an ancient town whose roots had never taken.  Most of the structures were abandoned, but wandering hunters, nomadic tribes and the destitute often haunted the deserted buildings.  Many of the crumbling structures had already been taken down by the earthquake, and those that remained were highly unstable.
    Elladan, Elrohir and three other elves were combing through the ghost town as quickly as they could, hoping to prevent unnecessary loss of life.  Already they had found three or four unfortunates who had not understood their danger.  
    This building was at least three levels high and shaped like a giant U.  Elladan raced down the dark, damp hallways of the second floor.  “The river is rising, this whole area is being evacuated, if there’s anyone in here, you must get out!” he called the warning.  
    The gully below the falls was nearly filled.  The river was jumping its banks in half a dozen places and already two of the levies they had worked so hard to build had been washed away.  It was beginning to look as if there was very little they could do but try to get everyone out.  
    Without warning, the earth heaved in the grip of the sudden aftershock.  
    Elladan stumbled to one side, catching himself against one of the stone walls.  Dust filled the air and the floor suddenly tilted sideways under his feet...

    Outside, Elrohir had just hurried a hunter and his son out of one of the nearby shacks when the tremor sent everyone racing out of the buildings as quickly as possible.  
    Four elves were in the clearing.  Elrohir looked around for his brother as the buildings around them shook unsteadily.  “Moranuen, where’s Elladan?”
    Moranuen pointed at the large building in the center of the vacant town.  “I saw him go in-”
    With a shrieking groan the building they were looking at suddenly toppled sideways, collapsing on itself with a horrific shriek.  
    “...there,” the elf finished in breathless horror.
    “No... Elladan!” Elrohir shouted his brother’s name, running towards the still settling debris.  
    Moranuen and the other two elves grabbed Elrohir, holding him back and keeping him from rushing into danger as one of the building’s remaining walls tumbled down with a crash.
    Elrohir struggled with them as the wreckage settled, his cry echoing against the wooded hills.  “ELLADAN!!”